The 6 best and worst cooking oils for your health

When it comes to cooking at home, there are numerous options for the type of oil you can use for sautéing, baking, and frying. While some oils, such as olive oil, are well known, others, such as avocado oil or coconut oil, may be less familiar.

So how do you choose the right cooking oil?

One crucial factor to consider is the smoke point of the oil, which is the temperature at which it starts to burn and emit smoke. Heating an oil above its smoke point can negatively affect its flavor and composition, leading to the release of harmful compounds called free radicals.

Olive oil

Contrary to the myth that frying in olive oil is not recommended, it is actually the most suitable vegetable oil for frying. This is due to the high content of oleic acid, a fatty acid that is highly resistant to heat.

olive oil (credit: SHUTTERSTOCK)

Quality olive oil also has a high smoke point and is rich in antioxidants, making it ideal for deep frying. The lower the acidity level of the olive oil, the higher its smoke point and stability.

The smoking temperature of olive oil exceeds 200 degrees Celsius, while home frying usually reaches around 170-180 degrees Celsius. Conversely, oils such as soybean, corn and sunflower are highly susceptible to decomposition and become unstable at high temperatures.

In addition, the high content of natural antioxidants such as polyphenols and tocopherols in olive oil helps prevent diseases and maintains the stability of fatty acids during frying. Even after several frying cycles, the natural antioxidants in the olive oil help protect the fatty acids from oxidation.

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Coconut oil

Coconut oil remains a controversial topic, even among the scientific community. It contains a significant amount of saturated fat, which is considered the most harmful of all fats. Saturated fat consumption is associated with elevated cholesterol levels and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Studies comparing the effects of consuming coconut oil and olive oil have found that coconut oil raises LDL (low-density lipoprotein, bad cholesterol) levels, similar to other saturated fats such as butter, beef fat, and palm oil. Therefore, it is advisable to limit your intake of coconut oil.

Additionally, coconut oil has a relatively low smoke point of 171 degrees Celsius, making it unsuitable for deep frying. Proportionate consumption is recommended as the excessive hype surrounding coconut products has no scientific support.

What is vegetable oil?

The term “vegetable oil” is often found in the ingredient lists of various products. It refers to any oil obtained from vegetable sources, and its healthiness depends on the source. Most vegetable oils available are blends of canola, corn, soybean, safflower, palm, and sunflower oils.

These refined and processed oils usually have an unhealthy fatty acid composition. The negative health effects of processed foods are well documented, and the same is true for these oils.

(credit: SHUTTERSTOCK)

Rapeseed oil

Rapeseed oil, extracted from rapeseed, is a source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for the body because it cannot produce them on its own. It also contains a relatively high amount of monounsaturated fat, providing an alternative for those who dislike the distinctive taste of olive oil.

However, due to the extraction process involving heating, solvents and refining, canola oil is not considered a healthy choice.

Avocado oil

Avocado oil, with its high smoke point, is an excellent option for cooking and sautéing at a higher temperature. It has a mild flavor similar to avocado, which makes it perfect for cooking. Avocado oil is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and contains vitamin E. The disadvantage is the higher price.

These oils, in addition to being processed, are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are considered pro-inflammatory compared to anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the diet can increase inflammation in the body, making these oils less desirable.

Linseed oil

Flaxseed oil is a valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids, but has a very low smoke point, making it unsuitable for cooking. It should be stored in a cool place, preferably in a refrigerator.

avocado oil (credit: SHUTTERSTOCK)

So what should you buy?

In conclusion, extra virgin olive oil with low acidity, stored in dark bottles and suitable conditions, is the recommended base oil for use in salads, cooking and frying.

As for frying at home, where the oil is thrown away after use and not reused, as in restaurants or falafel shops, it does not pose a health hazard. The principles of the Mediterranean diet, also endorsed by the Israeli Ministry of Health, emphasize the consumption of olive oil and other healthy fats such as those found in almonds, walnuts, seeds and avocados. These fats contribute to maintaining heart health and lowering cholesterol levels.

Einat Mazor Becker is a clinical nutritionist at the DMC Diabetes Center.

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